Anglicans in the diocese of Montreal think ministry to the marginalized and vulnerable is a normal church activity-and hope the Anglican Church of Canada will help make that clear to insurance companies and law courts.
At least that’s what a motion adopted by an overwhelming vote at the diocesan synod Oct. 18 says. Dean Paul Kennington of Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Montreal-among churches where apparently homeless people hang out or even bed down on the church steps or lawn-said he hopes the motion would help reinforce the potential risk to a parish if someone sued it as a result of an incident.
The motion is to be transmitted to the national church’s Council of General Synod (CoGS), the governing body between General Synods, in the hope of eventual consideration by the General Synod. (General Synod is the chief governing and legislative body of the Anglican Church of Canada.)
The dean said staff became concerned about the issue as a result of an incident some time ago involving a fight between the dogs of two people camping on the lawn of the cathedral, although the incident did not actually lead to a lawsuit or insurance claim.
Diocesan Chancellor David Eramian said an insurance company executive had told him a parish insurance policy would not protect the parish in such a case because allowing homeless people to camp out is not a normal church activity. The chancellor said a court would not necessarily rule the same way.
The dean said that ministry to the poor and the vulnerable is not an easy task and may mean ministry to prostitutes, drug dealers and sex offenders, following the example of Jesus. But it is “a non-negotiable part of the gospel.”
Responsible risk-taking means due diligence to try to minimize hazards, he said.
“But do we give up and let insurance companies decide what is a normal church activity?”
— Harvey Shepherd is editor of The Montreal Anglican, the newspaper of the Anglican diocese of Montreal.